On ViewChicago Manual Style
Planets are Slow Animals
May 24–September 1, 2023
A great amount of chaos has been created by certain Western ideals, particularly concepts of individuality and consumption based on the unmerited, never-enoughness of neoliberalism. Aligning with the idea of being with over being in, ecosophers have started thinking beyond the duality of man and nature, coming into agreement with emergent, more organic assemblies. With no easy mode for preserving finite planetary resources nor realization of fictive visions on post-apocalyptic living, a certain consciousness is required to understand how our current perspective is being transformed at the crossroads of art and scientific research.
Joel Kuennen’s Planets Are Slow Animals at Chicago Manual Style ingeniously incorporates the art of long-looking with the engagement of an ever-present future as it evidences itself through geologic time in a numinous net cast in the experimental garage gallery in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Entering their astrological-turf, I find myself at the farthest point of the constellation Lyra, denoted by a holographic line at the end of which lies a faceted crystal quartz is embedded in a luminous black floor. Caught in “Indra’s net,” described by Tibetan master Mingyur Rinpoche as an image of “the universe as an infinite net. … At every connection in this infinite net hangs a magnificently polished and infinitely faceted jewel, which reflects in each of its facets all the facets of every other jewel.” Falling into a galaxy of relations on the grid of a Kepler field at the center, Planes of Knowledge (2023) is conceived of Portland cement, granulated coal slag, perlite, and pumice. Casting cosmological alignments within and beyond the grid in permanent inlaid, semi-precious stone and starlight drawn of UV resins, iron oxides, silicone carbide, and several tiny fragments of a crystal called olivine, Kuennen bores into the ground in search of kismet. As the sun sets through two small windows, swaths of the swirling hand-scattered spacedust grow phosphorescent, rich in quantum relations, as undulating waveforms of ultra whitish-green transport us from the world outside. Pinpointing exoplanets, this kaleidoscopic view of a fragment of the universe enacts relationships between materials, moving beyond extractivist tactics used to mine semi-precious crystals. Kuennen is mindful of the affective relationship between natural and chemical elements. Their gestures indent object-oriented philosophy, a movement that resists the centrality of human-material relations. Placing the work in a darkened garage binds us to olivine, in a sense.
Shedding light on Kuennen’s inquiries into abiogenesis and exoplanets, the exhibition distills newfound research on olivine, a magnesium ferro silicate known for its carbon sequestration abilities, conducted during their time at the Enter the Hyperscientific residency at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Working alongside scientists Dr. Yong Liu and Dr. Arnaud Magrez, Kuennen engaged in an unorthodox lab experiment to grow olivine from a single crystal sample, which produced seven lab grown rods that punctuate the exhibition. A series of five highly polished, square-ish basalt wall mounted sculptures, “A Messianic Frame” (2023), take their name from Benjamin’s concept of messianic time, and hone into the deeply ecological act of growing olivine. A cubist map with no coordinates is held in bent copper brackets. Is it an odd pursuit to locate oneself in a universe in constant flux? Are new subjectivities and stratifications of power formed each time we harness the properties of say, a lab-grown life-preserving crystal? According to Kuennen, “The present is defined as an ongoing moment which is always ‘about to end,’” a nod to Mary-Jane Rubenstein who similarly makes a connection to Nietszche’s discussion of religious nihilism—specifically the belief that this world (or moment) is like a waiting room for the “true” world of the afterlife. “In this sense, no one has to take responsibility for one’s effect on the material world as it is always about to end.”
Echoing curator Stephanie Cristello’s interest in the poetics of the otherworldly, Kuennen presents four deep-emerald terrestrial fragments in The Living Earth I–IV (2023). Raw cut, sparingly polished serpentinized olivine sourced from Jade Cove, CA, is nestled in copper waveform brackets, expressing the ultrasonic frequency of olivine, something Kuennen and team studied at EPFL’s Crystal Growth facility. Forsaken for millenia, the angled fragments placed in dark corners of the garage annunciate the absurdity of space colonialism. Referencing Mary-Jane Rubenstein’s Astrotopia, Kuennen’s primary concerns are the destruction and consequent stewardship of Earth’s resources. Emerging from analytical and philosophical blindspots, the geologic hyperobject is paired with silicon carbide ceramic coated wasp nests—a playful loop between mineralogic and organic timescales.
Kuennen’s ecological thinking isn’t dark as much as it is deep. I ask if they feel a certain amount of dread given the imminence of climate collapse. Resisting melancholic withdrawal they assert, “I think we have much to look forward to actually. One of my favorite aspects of art-making is creating a problem that one has to solve and as a species, we are in this position. A future I look forward to is one where we are able to incorporate long frames of time into our everyday reality. Only then will we be able to extract ourselves from the messianic frame that has manifested an ongoing apocalypse of our own design.”